It’s a few hours before sunset and I start gathering my things. A towel, a book, water and snacks, a rain jacket, a long sleeved shirt and light pants to avoid mosquitos on the walk back...all this stuffed into my backpack. I load an extra gallon or two of water for rinsing off and head west.
The drive is a short one, but one that makes me feel free and removed from the stresses of the tic-toc life. I am on the open road. Wildness and exploration are ahead; freedom and wandering. A grin marks my face as I squint with the sun while adjusting the visor.
For these longer stays I park along the frontage road where there’s a break in the fence line and make the long walk towards the water’s edge. The far distance and the walk is part of the reason I come to this spot. It’s barren and curious and most visits I have complete solitude with the exception of birds and bugs. Relics of past eras poke out of the saline sand which at times is a rigid crust, moments later my bare feet are sinking into thick mud. It’s the emptiness that draws me out here. The void of space, of thought...of time.
It’s high summer and the smells out at the lake would deter most people had they a whiff. Near the shoreline flies cover the sand like a blanket, both dead and alive. The living ones buzz and ripple away like a shallow wave as I approach. They sense me deftly and part like Moses’ Red Sea at my ankles. There is a dull hum. I set up camp on the driest spot closest to the water, laying my rain jacket down first. I head straight for the lake to wade and to photograph. Knee-deep and the water is warm, sometimes I pass through pockets of heat. The soft sand feels good under my feet and the surface of the water is sprinkled with flies.
Dusk is enjoyed from my spot on the shore. I sit and watch birds and clouds flying low, taking in the nuances of the shifting colors along the horizon while waiting for the light to fall. One and two stars greet the night. And then it begins.
Like a herd of wild ghost horses it comes rushing across the water from somewhere seemingly far away. My hair whips violently as I face it head on. I turn to the side, encouraging it to brush and press across my back. The sensation of this wind river is one of complete aliveness.
Hot winds pick up after dark out at the lake during summer. They are forceful and surprising, yet inviting with it’s enveloping embrace. Seducing even. In this moment I feel most connected to the land, swept up in the conduit between Man and Earth. Inseparable. I shift my body, searching and feeling for wind patterns gusting across my skin; nuances within the vigor. I wander along the shoreline absorbed.
The gallon of water I hauled out is also hot, having baked in the sun for just a few hours. I pour it down my salt-stained legs and over my toes and heels before slipping into my sandals. It feels so good. More water is poured until I’m shaking the last drops out of the carton.
Heading back, I attempt to follow my earlier foot prints, but eventually I loose track. I assume my direction, but watch for clues, any clue, that tells me I am returning the way I came. I have become better at observing landmarks on the walk out over the years.
I know I am alone. But I still take caution to always pay attention. The secondary threat of wildlife is practically null except for the pestery mosquitoes. The wind seems to dull as I walk further away from the lake and I remember my long sleeves and light pants. I pause to cover myself. A few bites I can live with. Turning back to glance into the darkness, the water now the blackest abyss. I gaze upward to see the night’s net of stars and maybe the moon. I stall to stare and think, talking out loud to myself and to no one. Sometimes the journey feels never-ending.
Though it has not become unusual for me to wander around alone in the dark - in the middle of what feels like nowhere - to be honest, it is a relief when I finally get a glimpse of my Element. And an even greater relief when I am seated, turning the key and locking the doors. It’s late but I make it home before midnight.
A warm bath is drawn and I work out the sand stuck between my toes. I look through photographs captured earlier, then sink down and close my eyes. The smell of the salty air is faint and I feel satisfied.